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Politics: “Jihad Versus McWorld” by Benjamin Barber Essay

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Updated: Nov 12th, 2020

Benjamin Barber’s work “Jihad versus McWorld” illuminated him as a leading thinker and a political science scholar. Barber’s ideology is almost three decades old, but it provides useful insights into the conflicting forces of tribalism versus globalization. The author’s main argument is that democracy is at cross-purposes with both the concepts of globalism and tribalization. According to Barber, these two concepts function in equal strength but in opposition to each other.

Consequently, the ‘Jihad’ concept is known for propagating partisan dislikes and setting vested interests in stark opposition with global concepts and ideologies. On the other hand, the ‘McWorld’ concept encompasses universal markets and redefines the essence of traditional ethnic and geographical borders. This paper is a critical analysis of Barber’s argument and the resulting interpretation of the changing aspects of Jihad and McWorld.

First, it is important to understand Barber’s argument with regard to the concepts of Jihad and McWorld. The author’s reference to Jihad does not have any relation to the religious intolerance that is often associated with this term. However, the political scientist is alluding to the tribal fundamentalism and intolerance that applies to groups and sub-groups of people. For instance, in recent history, Barber’s interpretation of Jihad might include the reference to the Oklahoma bombing or the stiff opposition of mainstream ideas by religious leaders such as Jerry Falwell.

The concept of McWorld is easier to understand because it refers to the dominating money culture, whereby monetary power is able to create and eliminate historical boundaries. The current world is modeled around consumerism and the subsequent need to be alike and/or compete along these lines. At any given time, the consumer culture is either elevated more than the Jihad concept or subdued by it.

A recent example of this tug of war between Jihad and the McWorld is the recent political policies of President Donald Trump, whereby he seeks to perpetuate the ‘America first’ rhetoric (a form of Jihad) and grow the economy through domestically manufactured goods (that are set to compete in global markets). As a leading global economy, the United States has, in the recent past, acted as the leading champion of the McWorld concept.

For instance, the US has been instrumental in urging China to abandon Jihad concepts in favor of globalism. According to Barber, capitalism and globalism are interdependent. Nevertheless, the author’s argument indicates a general dislike for American capitalism and its reliance on popular culture. In comparison to the events of the recent past, the author’s argument highlights the intense relationship between the US and China.

Democracy and civil societies are said to thrive in a balanced environment. However, both the US and China are at the opposite ends of this argument, but a keen observation indicates that both countries have been trying to emulate each other in one way or another. For example, the emulation of Jihad in China’s recent history involves the expulsion of Western companies that encroach on the country’s interests.

On the other hand, companies in the US continue to seek entrance into the lucrative Chinese market even if the political and economic policies of the two countries do not align. It is also important to note that China remains a leading consumer of American pop culture. Information manipulation within Chinese ranks is also another example of Jihad elements within the country. Nevertheless, it remains to be seen whether the emerging concept of ‘fake news’ and alternative facts in the US is taking the country in a similar direction to China.

Using Barber’s basic interpretation of the McWorld, some of the organizations that fit best to this concept are the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the EU (European Union). These organizations often operate on a transnational scale, and they embody the concept of globalization in their entirety. Nevertheless, they also contradict the argument about having identity and globalization on one side, versus democracy and vested interests on the other.

For instance, most of these global organizations act as ineffective reactors as opposed to the driving forces of globalization. The case of the UE and UK’s recent ‘Brexit Vote’ is an example of how Jihad forces triumph over the McWorld. Although the power of the EU was expected to have a far-reaching impact on global politics, partisan politics carried the day during the recent UK referendum. To a large extent, the McWorld entities appear to be extensions of the partisan interests that are held by nation-states (jihad elements). For example, the IMF is mostly operated by Western elements that are eager to benefit from the monetary constraints of developing regions such as Africa and Asia. Consequently, it is hard to eliminate Jihad elements even within pseudo-McWorld elements.

Although Barber’s concept is a few decades old, its original articulation of Jihad versus McWorld concepts has survived. However, the original description of Jihad appears to have withstood change more than that of the McWorld. The Jihad element, as expounded by Barber, is exemplified by nation-states, sub-national players, and other elements that are in opposition to integration, uniformity, and universal laws. Newspaper headlines across the world often feature Jihad players in the form of individual countries, but their most accurate representation should be as cultures and/or interests.

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